Allegheny Health Network working to combat nursing shortage in Pittsburgh region

PITTSBURGH — Allegheny Health Network is working on a plan to combat the nursing shortage nationwide and here in our area. So far, solving the problem has been a slow process.

The shortage started even before the pandemic, and the months of the pandemic have created what AHN Chief Nurse Executive Claire Zangerle called “the perfect storm”.

“The nursing shortage is happening at the bedside, where direct care is given in the ambulatory areas and also in the hospitals,” Zangerle said. “We have about 97 positions open at this point, in our inpatient areas across all 13 of our hospitals, we probably have close to 200 or so positions open.”

But Zangerle stresses, it could be worse.

“Our vacancy rates are higher than we’re used to them being, they’re not the highest they’ve ever been in our history, but they’re higher than what we’re used to,” Zangerle added.

There are many reasons for the shortage, and all were exacerbated by COVID-19.

“The pandemic has affected the nursing shortage in that it made people think about their future. Some in nursing who were going to retire maybe a couple of years down the road, I believe the pandemic push them to maybe retire sooner,” Zangerle said.

Also, the pandemic limited how many new nurses were coming in. Zangerle said many who graduated didn’t get the same training they normally have, because they weren’t able to do clinical rotations.

To combat the problem, AHN is offering signing bonuses for new nurses. Still, Zangerle said the facility hasn’t had a lot of luck, in part because established nurses don’t want to start over with a new employer.

Now, AHN is focusing on three areas. Nurses who may have left the field and want to come back, nurses from local universities and institutions, and keeping the nurses AHN already has.

“We’re doing everything we can to help reduce their workload, because I don’t want nurses picking up too many extra shifts, because that that leads to burnout,” Zangerle said. “We want we in we want our nurses to take care of themselves physically, mentally, emotionally.”

So, while the shortage continues, what about the patients who need nurses? Zangerle stresses that is not a problem. Even with all the obstacles, there are enough nurses to help anyone who needs help.

“Just because there’s a nursing shortage across the country now, and even here in western Pennsylvania, does not mean that we don’t have nurses to take care of patients,” Zangerle said. “We can say with great confidence that any patient that needs care, we are here to take care of them.”